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Copley Closes the Outlook, Will Merge 2 Daily Papers

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Outlook, a Santa Monica-based daily newspaper dating to 1875 and the winner of an Associated Press first-place award for its coverage of the 1996 Malibu fire, was abruptly shut down Friday.

The Copley Press Inc. of La Jolla, owner of the Outlook, said today’s edition of the 23,000-daily circulation paper would be its last.

Copley, as part of a broader cutback, also disclosed that it will eliminate the jobs of 82 full-time and 41 part-time workers at its flagship paper in the Los Angeles area, the Daily Breeze of Torrance. In addition, the company said it would merge the smallest of its three Southland dailies, the 12,500-circulation News-Pilot of San Pedro, into the Daily Breeze.

All told, Copley’s Los Angeles-area newspaper operation is cutting more than 150 staffers through buyouts and involuntary dismissals, leaving a work force of about 400 employees.

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Copley officials said the cutbacks were prompted by declining business performance.

“The need for these changes was difficult to accept, but, in the end, undeniable,” company President David C. Copley said in a news release. “We are more committed than ever to remaining an independent journalistic voice in the communities of [the] South Bay and we believe we now are strongly positioned to serve the South Bay well into the next century.”

James M. Box, editor of Copley Los Angeles Newspapers, added that the Outlook “has never been really profitable in the 15 years Copley has owned it. It’s at best been modestly profitable or break-even.”

John Morton, a leading newspaper industry analyst, said that the Outlook and other suburban newspapers in Southern California are feeling financial pressure from Denver-based MediaNews. That growing newspaper company, headed by William Dean Singleton, has bought the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Whittier Daily News and, most recently, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the San Fernando Valley-based Los Angeles Daily News.

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“Singleton is enlarging his footprint all around Los Angeles, and the more properties he assembles, the bigger buy he can give to advertisers and the more cost efficiencies he can achieve. So, it makes him a formidable competitor to papers that might not have such advantages,” Morton said.

Singleton, once rumored to be looking into buying privately held Copley’s Los Angeles operations, could not be reached for comment.

But Box said Copley, which also owns the San Diego Union-Tribune as well as papers in the Midwest, is committed to remaining in the Los Angeles area. “We’ve heard the rumors as much as everyone else has, that with his recent acquisition of the Long Beach paper, Press-Telegram, and the Daily News, that Singleton was interested in our group because it would have completed the ring he has talked about around Los Angeles, but our company has expressed no interest in selling. . . . We decided the best way to improve the position of the Breeze was to try to reduce our expenses. . . . It’s always been the strongest of our three [Los Angeles] papers.”

Under Copley’s local overhaul, the company will serve San Pedro readers by replacing the News-Pilot with a localized edition of the Breeze. Currently, the Breeze has a daily circulation of 76,000.

The Outlook, which published five free weekly newspapers on the Westside in addition to the daily newspaper, “covered some of the best stories of the decade,” said Skip Rimer, the paper’s executive editor for the last three years. “O.J. was a local story for us, the earthquake, the Malibu fire. The L.A. riots even touched here.”

Rimer, who is out of a job himself because of the shutdown, added, “We served this community for 123 years. There’s a lot of history here, and I think this community will be a lot worse off without this voice.”

The Outlook’s story dates back to its founding as a weekly newspaper by businessman Lemuel T. Fisher on Oct. 13, 1875, just three months after Santa Monica was recognized as a community and placed on the official Los Angeles County map. By the turn of the century, the newspaper, under editor D.G. Holt, was waging a campaign to make Santa Monica the capital of a new state that would have been named South California.

The newspaper first came into the Copley family’s hands back in 1928 when it was acquired by Ira Copley. He later sold the paper, but Copley Newspapers reacquired it in 1983 and has held it since. A recent highlight for the paper was its coverage of the 1996 Malibu fire, which earned the Outlook a first-place award in a regional Associated Press competition for small daily newspapers.

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News of the Copley cutbacks was delivered at a series of staff meetings Friday in Santa Monica, San Pedro and Torrance. Although Outlook staffers were aware of the newspaper’s financial difficulties, the news of the paper’s shutdown came as a shock that moved some to tears.

Josh Grossberg, a 39-year-old general assignment reporter with the Outlook for the last five years, said, “Rumors have been flying around since I’ve been here, but I never expected this.

“It’s just a hard time for the news biz,” Grossberg said wearily Friday afternoon as he cleaned out his desk. “I’d like to continue in journalism, but I’m not married to the idea.”

Civic leaders also lamented the loss of the paper. “I feel very dismayed, the Outlook was a very important component in the dialogue of this community,” said Santa Monica councilman Ken Genser. “The first thing that virtually every city official and activist looks at in the morning are the letters to the editor.”

The Outlook was the only newspaper besides the Los Angeles Times to provide daily coverage of West Los Angeles.

In addition, much of the area’s weekly newspaper coverage was eliminated by the Outlook’s demise. Its five affiliated free weeklies--the Culver City-Ladera Independent, the Brentwood-Westwood Press, the West Los Angeles Independent, the Venice-Marina News and Outlook Mail--had a combined circulation of 100,000.

Copley Press has annual revenue of nearly $500 million. The company owns 11 daily and 32 weekly newspapers in California and Illinois, and operates Copley News Service, which has six news bureaus and distributes features to more than 1,500 newspapers.

Times staff writer Elizabeth Douglass and correspondent Sue McAllister contributed to this story.

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